Comments on “A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri, by John Gee” (67 pages, published by FARMS in 2000)
In his introduction Gee writes “This guide has been prepared to provide basic information about the Joseph Smith Papyri and an overview of the discussion about the connections they may have with the Book of Abraham for those who have no knowledge of Ancient Egypt and perhaps little of the Latter Day Saints.” For the most part, this publication fulfills those goals. It reads easily and has very good color copies of some of the Joseph Smith Papyri (JSP). However, it leaves out or glosses over some very important information. One example of this is in his explanation of Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham (BoA). On page 33, Gee notes that “A sketch of Facsimile 2, made in 1842, probably by Willard Richards, shows areas of that facsimile that were damaged.” However, he does not indicate where that sketch can be found, which is in the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers. Nor does he mention that, in the original publication of Facsimile 2, the missing and damaged areas were filled in 1) by copying text or figures from other portions of the JSP or 2) by the artist's creativity/inspiration.
I read this to gain an understanding of the LDS position on the Papyri. I was especially curious as to how Dr. Gee would answer some of the criticisms that have been raised by Egyptologists and others. For example, they disagree with Joseph Smith's identification of the figures in Facsimile 3 of the BoA. I was disappointed to find that Dr. Gee does not address this criticism, except to state that two of the figures in female attire, that Joseph Smith identified as male royalty, may be men dressed as women. Except for that comment, Dr. Gee does not try to justify any other aspect of Joseph Smith's Facsimile 3 explanations. In his explanations, Joseph Smith not only identified all the figures, but also claimed that there are Egyptian characters on Facsimile 3 that identify three of the figures. For example, the explanation for figure 5 is “Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his head.” According to Egyptologists, there are no characters on Facsimile 3 that translate to Shulem. The person Joseph Smith calls Shulem is, in fact, Osiris Hor, the person for whom the papyrus was written.
This publication is of value to anyone that wants a quick overview of the JSP and is curious as to how a FARMS scholar counters some of the “anti-Mormon” criticisms of The BoA. However, the reader should be warned that information, which does not agree with the LDS viewpoint, is often omitted or glossed over.
Since writing the above, I have re-read this booklet and have found a serious misstatement by the author, Dr. John Gee. To bolster his theory, that the Egyptian characters were added to the left margins of the BoA manuscripts after the English text was written, Gee furnishes several examples. On page 22, he claims that in example 1 (KEPA 1, page 8), the Egyptian characters “run over” the margin and the English text. If one examines this closely, one can see that it does overrun the margin; however, it does not run over the English text. I pointed out this misstatement on the Zion Lighthouse Member Board website.
In this same thread, John Gee, via Daniel Peterson, stated that I incorrectly interpreted “overrun” as meaning, “overwrite.” (On page 21 Gee uses “overrun.” On page 22 he uses “run over.”). Gee's statement via Peterson is:
The argument claims that I am (1) stupid because I used the term "overrun" to mean "overwrite," and (2) dishonest because the text is not overwritten. I never intended the term "overrun" to mean "overwrite" since they are not synonyms. The term "overwrite" means "to write (something) over other writing." "Overrun," on the other hand, means "to run farther than or beyond (a certain point, a limit, etc.); to exceed." I used the term correctly to argue that Egyptian characters ran farther than or beyond the margin line and into the space used for the English text -- in fact, in one instance, into the indentation left by the English text. The Egyptian may overrun the English without necessarily overwriting the English.Gee is wrong in his interpretation of the meaning of the word “overrun (he did not try to explain “run over”). To double check I looked up “run over” and “overrun” in the 2nd edition of the American Heritage Dictionary. Meaning number 3 of “run over” is the only one that would apply to something written on paper. That definition is “flow over.” The two applicable meanings of “overrun” are 1) “To overflow” and 2) “to run or extend beyond”. Gee was clearly mistaken. He said the Egyptian characters “overrun” or “run over” the English text. He should have said that the Egyptian characters “run over” or “overrun” the area used for English text, without being written on top of the English text.